IAALS Launches Bid To Promote Nonlawyer Representation

By Matt Perez | April 8, 2022, 8:04 PM EDT ·

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver wants to help standardize nonlawyer representative assistance to increase options for accessible and affordable legal help in the U.S.

In an announcement on Thursday, the organization announced its new initiative Allied Legal Professionals, which seeks to research and help create a framework for states to understand the roles of nonlawyer representatives.

"We are excited to continue our work in thoroughly exploring all models that can help increase access to justice in America," Natalie Knowlton, IAALS' director of special projects, said in the announcement. "This project is particularly important, given the reach of the justice crisis, affecting people across income levels."

Citing the World Justice Project, the IAALS highlighted that the U.S. ranked 126 out of 139 countries for accessibility to court and legal services in 2021, with around 40-60% of middle class individuals having their legal needs unmet. In addition, the IAALS said 70% of civil and family law cases include a party without a lawyer, and they disproportionately face negative results in court.

"We have a societal misconception that only low-income populations face issues when it comes to accessing justice," IAALS manager Michael Houlberg said in a statement. "The reality in America today is that people either need considerable money to retain legal assistance, or they need to have so little money that they qualify for the limited legal aid available."

The Allied Legal Professionals project will analyze existing and proposed projects and limited research in the field, work with leaders and stakeholders to establish best practices and recommendations and subsequently build models for states to follow when considering and creating allied legal professional programs.

"Just as people have come to understand and respect nurse practitioners, we hope the development of a national model will create the foundation to bring understanding and respect to allied legal professionals, both within the legal profession and in the eyes of the public," IAALS legal assistant Janet Drobinske said.

The IAALS, which is a national, independent research center at the University of Denver, will publish a preliminary compilation of existing programs this summer. It will then work with experts to build out the research to develop best practices by November for allied legal professional programs. Early next year, it plans to publish its final recommendations and considerations for states looking to implement the programs.

"IAALS' Cases Without Counsel study revealed that people who need legal help are open to receiving it from qualified and authorized providers who are not lawyers," Knowlton said. "The response in favor was overwhelming, and we listened. The voices of the public — who are often left out of these critical conversations — are one of the reasons we felt compelled to launch Allied Legal Professionals."

--Editing by Nicole Bleier.

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